I hate being the new girl on the block, and don’t let me be new to an environment that includes both men AND women. All hell is liable to break loose! No need to sugar coat it. MEN will always be in the top three ranking for “reasons why women dislike each other.” You can also guess that the other two slots are shared with jealously and our own insecurities.
But let’s be honest, it’s always been easier to simply place the blame on men. And if you feel as though my fingers are pointing at you, then let’s not forget while doing so, that three are pointing back at myself and I acknowledge that. These days I am becoming more confident of the person that I am becoming, especially once I decided to be honest with myself. I don’t know what it is with the milestone of turning 30, but it was then I realized there were some things about me that needed to change.
If I must be honest, blame it on my own guilty pleasures, I find myself enjoying my share of “tea” from time to time with my circle of girlfriends. I take pride in knowing that I have a solid unit whom I consider sisters to me. We tell each other mostly everything that goes on in our own lives and sometimes engage in information about other people. I know, I know. That’s gossiping. But I promised I’d keep it real. **Clears throat and carries on.
Perhaps, sometimes I’ve found our unit to be SO tight that we can be a bit overly protective and territorial of letting any others in. I know without a doubt that by keeping your circle small you prevent the possibilities of others finding out any of your personal business. #Bigfacts! But of course this “circle” believe or not subsequently then becomes something exclusive with too many GroupMe’s and secret message threads to count. And you can bet that we aren’t soliciting applications for “new friends” anytime soon. It’s funny how easy it is to forget how it felt to be on the outside looking in, desiring to be accepted and included.
“You can’t sit with us.”
I cringed when I heard this popular phrase regurgitated to me by a young girl that I mentor. This young girl reminded me a lot of myself in middle school simply trying figure out how to fit in. I was what students may refer to as a nerd. I was skinny, lacking anything remotely fashionable, smart and a bit socially awkward when entering new environments. Actually scratch that, I was extremely shy, which made it very hard to connect with anyone. In fact, I recall much of my interaction with others at the time only to be when they felt the need to express their dissatisfaction for me as a person.
This was my first introduction to implicit bias in a new environment. I never understood it then, and still don’t understand it now. How can anyone dislike someone without valid reasoning? Does the hate REALLY just fall from the sky? Is it because I lacked a “crew” to validate my acceptance within the school? Before pointing the finger and allowing my overly protective mentor tendencies to kick in, I decided to attempt answering the questions by first looking within at myself.
One of the strategies I adopted to eliminate the issue of being an anomaly amongst peers was learning to align myself within circles or groups of females. I found myself joining clubs, organizations, teams, social groups and in college I sought out to join an illustrious sorority. Many may look at my desire to be part of something as my way to feel validated. But really that was a subset to the main reason for my pursuit, which was to feel included in every facet of my life. Impossible right?! Lol I was tired of being the outcast and thus felt determined to change the trajectory of my own social life.
To a degree, I still implement this logic as an adult in my own way to expand my professional network. And it works too! However, I never considered the fact that the cliquish dynamics familiar to my teenage years are still very prevalent in social environments as an adult. I NOW walk into a room and (thanks to my vastly growing network) always know at least ONE person. But before I go tooting my own horn and raving about my strong connections, I can recall attending an event that opened my eyes to how I truly operate within these relationships. It definitely changed my life and how I looked at myself!
The event attracted tons of professional women from various career fields, age demographics and ethnicities. I remember EAGERLY skimming the room to see what familiar faces I wanted to speak to first. I was so excited because events like this, for me, always felt more like a sisterly reunion. Everyone was cliqued up in their circles and subset groups- the lawyers, the doctors, the entrepreneurs, sorority women, etc.
As I looked around the room I noticed, standing off from the circles, were several young ladies. No one approached them and they seemed to appear a bit uncomfortable and unfamiliar to those around them. When I found my group, I decided to make them aware of the new faces in attendance and volunteered to invite the young ladies over. But their immediate reaction told me enough in regards to what our “group” had become.
“Mmmmm, I guess. I don’t really know her like THAT.”
“I heard she was just interested in becoming a member of…”
“What does she have on?”
“She clearly is not from here.”
Or my favorite… “If she is from here, I wonder what high school she attended.”
As if the obvious staring didn’t make it bad enough, I did absolutely nothing while my group sized the women up and down, slowly manifesting their own biases. Shamefully I didn’t have the confidence to check them because I was afraid, once again, of being on the opposite side of the fence. I never said anything negative about the ladies, but my silence told me that I was just as in the wrong. We all were! I was a part of a group of people that exhibited the same type of behaviors that I was a victim to at one point in my life.
I had become just like them… close-minded, judgmental, snooty and stuck-up. I was, too, writing off people before actually getting to know them for myself. I was a product of groupthink, and my greatest fear was simply finding myself singled out…again. I didn’t like feeling alone, and found that narrowing my environments only to places I knew were familiar to me, would cut down on my chances of experiencing new things and new people by myself. Because you know…that’s scary!
But one day, I heard this spunky young lady speak at a function I attended. A super bubbly one she was, whom initially I felt was a bit much. At least from what I was used to that is! She was different. She was approachable, friendly, and seemed to be on a mission to meet as many people as possible. I thought to myself, “man what kind of coffee did she drink today?”
As I watched her float through the room by herself (no “flossy-possy” needed), I found her to be most intriguing, navigating different conversations with different people almost seamlessly. She did not seem a bit uncomfortable either and I admired that. “She must know everyone already,” I thought to myself.
As the crowd settled into their seats, the MC began to read the bio of the speaker singing praises to her latest book, “Hey Friend, 100 Ways to Connect with 100 People in 100 Days.” My ears perked up immediately, as I began to understand why she was friendliest in the room.
Keisha Mabry is her beautiful name. Her witty and relatable, interactive dialogue sought to equip her audience with the tools they needed to create healthy, meaningful relationships. She also highlighted some of the barriers that might keep someone from feeling most comfortable with making those initial interactions. For example, the fear of being our most authentic versions of ourselves, not being accepted, or the worst- being rejected. I began to grab a pen and paper because I knew she was speaking directly to me. My situation. My fear is what drove me to hide within these groups so that I’d never have to actually address my discomfort. A discomfort that specifically came from being the new girl, being alone, or sometimes feeling singled out like an outcast.
But in that moment, I felt challenged and armed with the tools needed to become a better version of myself. I thought, “Wow, if everyone lived this philosophy that embraces inclusion and building relationships, we would experience so much more success and peace in the world. Especially within the dynamics amongst women.”
Think about it. What if we, as women, proactively made more of an attempt to embrace one another instead of tearing each other down? What if we pulled up a chair and worked with one another instead of feeling like everything is a competition? What if we let go of our own unconscious biases, personal insecurities and really gave each other a chance?
Oh the places we would go!!!! **in my Doctor Seuss voice.
Keisha’s book charged me with the accountability to put forth more of an effort to establish my own meaningful relationships and embrace moments of discomfort when doing so. Also, when finding myself to actually be in the in-crowd, it challenged me to not develop or encourage such a haughty persona that could create barriers for new-comers desiring to establish relationships with myself or those around me.
There is room for all of us at the table. No need to intentionally box or single one another out. We are a force when we work together ladies!
Next time you find yourself at the “table” and you notice another woman come along, pull up a chair for her and say…
**In Keisha’s voice.
You CAN come sit with us!